Saturday July 22, 2006
The new series of Sky’s explosion-laden hit science program “Brainiac” starts tomorrow, and there’s just one question on everyone’s lips: will they be faking the science as much in this series as they have previously? Because by the miracle of the internet I can now quote telly, so there’s a link to a very interesting clip of Brainiac for you at www.badscience.net.
It purports to show a lump of Rubidium, and then a lump of Caesium, each blowing up a bathtub, in series 2.”Whether you’ve left school, or you’re still at school, you can still appreciate the sheer MAYHEM that chemistry can be!!!” it begins. “Bunsen burners! Mixing Chemicals!” Science!!! “Now you may have been allowed to mix very small amounts of lithium with water.” Yes. “You may, with a responsible adult, have mixed H2O with sodium. And you may, under strict ‘scientific’ control, have witnessed potsasium mixed with water. But the odds are, if you have,” he reaches for a prop, “it will only have been on those… rubbish science videos!” Then they burn a box labelled “rubbish science video”, on a bunsen burner, using some big “sciencey” tongs.
I’m just trying to give you a flavour of the program.
“These next two are the dog’s nuts of the periodic table.” They go on, introducing rubidium and caesium. “Mix these two with water, stand back… and watch the MAYHEM!!!”
Now before we get into the details, I want you to know that I am a sophisticated man, and I appreciate this is a complex situation. The program makers, perhaps, thought they were making a pure entertainment show. Sky claims that viewers are always told when the results of experiments are jazzed up. But what is the point of a science show that shows what happens when you add A to B, if the sequence shows nothing of the kind?
Science consultants walk a dangerous line. One, whom we shall refer to as “Deep Throat” (and if you don’t re-employ him, Granada Productions, know that I am watching you very closely), was unimpressed with the way things turned out on Brainiac, and has nobly and quietly murmured disgruntlement. I know I’m not bringing down the government, but humour me.
So what happened with the caesium? In the program they are explicit about what they are doing. “Caesium, the emperor of alkali metals, particularly nasty, could go off at any time!” “What’s that going to do when it hits the water?” “Imagine a depth charge in a bath tub!” Yup, imagine that.
The voiceover continues, over a dance music soundtrack: “As our caesium sinks in the water, the rapid generation of hydrogen gas should produce quite an explosion!!!” They drop the caesium in and run for cover. “And it does!” The bathtub is blown to pieces. “Yeeeeeesssss” gasps the presenter. “Only on Brainiac do you get that kind of… Science!”
But what really happened? Deep Throat (okay, Brainiac’s Dr Bunhead, aka Tom Pringle) claims: “Absolutely bloody nothing. The density of caesium ensured it hit the bottom of the bath like a lead weight. The sheer volume of water then totally drowned out the thermal shock-wave I was expecting to shatter the bath. This was an expensive filming day. They had hired part of Pinewood studios and had an ambulance and fire engine plus crew on standby. They could not go home empty handed. So they rigged a bomb in the bottom of the bath (you can see the black wire leading into the bath) and then blew the shit out of it. I must say, it did look cool, [but it] ate away at my conscience… I couldn’t do anything about it.”
If this was all faked, then what exactly is the point of me watching? And moreover, what is the point of them saying “the rapid generation of hydrogen gas” caused the explosion, if it didn’t? Am I the stupidest person in the room here? Anyway, a Sky spokesperson said: “All of the experiments conducted on Brainiac have proven theory behind them. We aim to inform, excite and, above all, entertain our viewers with science method conducted in a fun and engaging way. We love big bangs and sometimes we’ll make an explosion bigger than we need to just because it’s fun but we always tell our viewers. We’re just about to start our fourth series, we’ve won several awards as well as the respect of educational professionals and we’re really proud to be sparking children’s interest in science.” When pressed on this incident, the spokesperson was unable to confirm if the experiment was faked or not, was unable to confirm if viewers were told if it was faked or not, and claimed my source was not even there for the filming and so could not comment.
And another version here on Google video too just in case.